After placing Joseph and Mary around the manger, today we continue building the set with the shepherds.
Shepherds were ordinary guys. Ordinary guys who worked with animals, to be more specific (thanks, Robert Tannehill). They were the kind of person who could visit, say, a manger and not feel out of place. They were average dudes who were on the clock at a time when most people are asleep.
If Jesus were born today in Cherokee County, the “shepherds” might have been some folks working third shift in one of the mills still running around here – or maybe even working overnight at the casino. Good but ordinary people, making ends meet by doing what they could in a limited job market. Obligated to be awake at a time when most people are asleep. It might have been around their nocturnal “lunch break” when suddenly –
Luke tells us they were “filled with fear” (2:9). If these are ordinary folk, then I can only imagine their reaction is… colorful.
“Don’t be afraid!” the angel says. “I’m here with good news! A savior has been born – right here, in little old Andrews! And here’s how you’ll know: He’s not at Murphy Medical Center, not even in someone’s warm bedroom, but in the barn that sits behind the Quality Inn.”
(Now, I know some good folks at the Quality Inn, and I doubt they’d send a family about to have a baby out into the cold… but bear with me for the sake of the story.)
Next come more angels! A whole chorus, singing hymns!
And then they’re gone, just as suddenly as they appeared.
The third-shift crew looks around at each other. They’ve got four hours left on the clock. What do they do?
“We better go see this thing,” one says. “Ain’t every day an angel shows up.”
And so they abandon their shift and grab their coats. They jump in each other’s cars and trucks and ride out to the four-lane. They find the Quality Inn and sure enough, there’s an old building out back. And wouldn’t you know it: A young mother, and a father, and a newborn baby. They laugh and clap each other on the backs and congratulate the new family.
After that, they wouldn’t shut up about it. If you ran into one of them at the grocery store or the post office, they’d talk your ear off about it – about the angel and the baby, right where no one would expect a baby but just where the angel said. “It must be true!” they’d say. “A savior, born right here!” People were amazed… but confused. They wondered what this might mean.
What does it mean?
It’ll take about thirty years of a baby growing into a man before anyone can begin to understand this “savior” bit. But right away, this story says something about God. It means that God shows up and speaks to ordinary people – people very much like you. No special qualifications, no high status. God can speak to you.
It also means that big news can come from ordinary people. You don’t have to be an ordained preacher to share the good news. You don’t need degrees or to have read the Bible cover-to-cover five times. God can speak through you.
When I imagine those shepherds – or third shift workers, or whoever – telling the story, I bet they didn’t have footnotes or credentials or SAT words. I bet they just said,
“This is what we heard…
…and then this is what we saw…”
Pretty simple. So simple, I bet you could tell the good news that same way. Maybe you haven’t seen an angel, but maybe you have seen God at work in comfort and healing, or heart God’s love in forgiveness and grace. Maybe you could say something like:
“This is what I heard…
…and then this is what I saw…”
That way of telling the good news is so simple you might call it… ordinary.
But don’t underestimate the ordinary.
God is in the ordinary, after all.